Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Fascinating Double Design Life of Roger Thomas: Marin County and Las Vegas

In Las Vegas, Monday to Friday, award-winning interior designer Roger Thomas creates hyper-style interiors for resorts, hotels, casinos and restaurants to entertain, surprise, shock, and inspire fantasy. His decor induces flights of fantasy, hedonism, romance and fun. It’s maximal, delicious, and over-the-top.

As executive vice president for Wynn Design and Development, including Wynn Las Vegas, Encore and Wynn Macau, his designs are escapist, seductive, and witty.

He has been on Architectural Digest’s ‘Top 100 Designers’ for many years, and is considered a leader in the hospitality industry. 

Friday nights, Roger flies home to an elegant, remote hillside in California, where he escapes to a refined, minimal, monochromatic and sedate world.

In his private life, he is surrounded by John Dickinson plaster tables, Jean-Michel Frank and Ruhlman chairs, and rare twentieth-century and contemporary furniture and paintings.

In Northern California he spends time in his studio, designing collections of elegant fabrics, carpets, outdoor furniture, furniture, Peking glass, passementeries. He collects art and museum-quality furniture. He relaxes by poring over auction catalogs. He entertains with panache and style.

Sunday nights he jumps in a Towncar, heads to SFO, and is back in Las Vegas, the desert, and the Wynn dreamworld for a week creating excitement and escape.

Follow me to discover the two dazzling fields of design of Roger Thomas.

“My absolute criterion for collecting art or furniture: it must possess the extraordinary.”  —Designer Roger Thomas 

At home in Fairfax: among Roger’s most treasured possessions is a white plaster tripod table, based on an African tribal table. It was designed by John Dickinson, circa 1975.

Designer Roger Thomas is a devoted and serious vintage, antique, art, and design collection. 

Forward thinking, Roger is putting a new spin on his residence, blurring the lines between furniture and art. He shares the house with his longtime partner, artist representative Art Libera. He has embraced a constellation of worldly antiques, museum-quality Paris salon furniture, French-inspired Czech chairs from the thirties, his own new designs, and a mix of new art and venerable crafted décor. 

Once there were only two settings for the design dial—traditional or modern. Designers and architects were in love with elaborate Georgian curves or opulent gilded Louis XV chairs—or it was chrome and Miles and modernism all the way. 

Today, Roger Thomas is staking out his own territory, exploring and Mapquesting the wilder shores of design history with grit and wit. 

Roger travels often—I receive emails from Paris or New York, London or Hong Kong, where he is attending auctions of antique shows or overseeing production—and he has his eye on an international roster of design stars. He’s also on the hunt for rising artists, experimental shapes, fine tapestries, space-age materials, and talent with a classical approach to ensure design immortality.

Designers like Roger have the great advantage as collectors that they’re constantly exposed to centuries of art and décor, and 24/7 they’re immersed in finding the best examples of art and design for their clients.

Passionate, knowledgeable, confident, and aware of the market, Roger is constantly editing and energizing his collections. A Chuck Close portrait, or a rare Oriental sculpture will add depth. He’ll add rare textiles, an auction find, a new piece from Paris antique dealer Stephane Olivier. 

Going Global 
"For serious collectors, the Internet offers the world,” said Roger, who has worked closely with Steve Wynn, chairman of the board of Wynn Resorts in Las Vegas for more than thirty years..

“Because of globalization, I can research the rarest of the rare furniture and art, go in-depth with scholarship and provenance of a Gerrit Rietveld prototype or a John Dickinson plaster table,” Thomas said. “It has become easier to bid on auctions in Stockholm or Antwerp for example, and shipping is simpler. It’s a collector’s dream.” 

Thomas travels constantly in Asia and Europe to fulfill the demands of his high-powered Wynn Resorts role (the company recently opened a resort/casino in Macau), and in his time off (airport lounges, flights) he loves to do arcane searches into remote sites for T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings taborets, perhaps, or quirky 2001 ‘San Demas’ chairs with scrabbling bronze dragon feet and chic leopard-spotted back by U.K. designer Mark Brazier-Jones.

Thomas said his casino and hotel designs stoke his collecting.

“I design interiors for new restaurants or night clubs and suites, and they must encapsulate escapism, fun, mystery. These restaurants or clubs must be capable of inspiring memories,” said Thomas. “At home I’ve obviously dialed down the drama, with muted walls in colors designed by Evans & Brown, and minimalist architecture by Daniel Solomon. I wanted a rather neutral background to show off the evolving collections.”

Thomas recently acquired a Czech Deco chair, circa 1930, in Prague. The sinuous curves of this singular chair are finished in elm burl veneer. Nearby, in his living room, he has a pair of Andre Arbus lacquered mahogany chairs, circa 1940, acquired in a sale at the venerable Tajan auction house, Paris. 

But his mix also includes new pieces, like the 2006 silicon, mirror and steel wire sculpture (a spoof on an eighteenth-century French girandole) by Timothy Horn that floats above a pair of sculptural sycamore lamps, circa 1940s, attributed to Alexander Knoll. The composition, in a corner of his bedroom, is anchored by a handsome green cerused oak dresser designed by Thomas, with rock crystal drawer pulls and brushed nickel floor plates.

“Collecting and decorating for me offers a collision of knowledge and taste and a lust for beauty,” said Thomas, who recently acquired a pair of Jean-Michael Frank cerused oak armless chairs, circa 1930s at the Patrick Fourtin gallery in Paris. He discovered them in the galleries dusty basement storage. “I started collecting sea shells and paintings as an eight-year-old and have never stopped.”

If, like Roger Thomas, you would like to be a collector, here are some of his Secret Sources: 
Roger attends the Paris Biennale, as well as New York shows and the annual San Francisco Fall Antiques Show, for example.

He continues to build a reference library, and grab every book (old or new) on their favorite periods and craftsmen, artists and designers. They become experts, constantly on the hunt.

Sites to watch: 

Bonham’s: The international auction house often presents special sales of California art collectors, and memorabilia. Recent twentieth-century furniture sales have featured pieces by John Dickinson. 

1st Dibs: Antiques have migrated to The leading access site to hundreds of antique and art dealers around the country, and in London and Paris. Easily-traversed site offers excellent searches (by designer, for example), and all decorators today use the site as an essential reference and marketplace. This pivotal site, which offers a broad range of twentieth-century fine art, furniture, lighting, jewelry, vintage fashions and decorative arts, was founded ten years ago. Most leading galleries, antique shops, and vintage specialists in the US and internationally display and sell their wares on 1stdibs. An excellent site for researching and studying the market, watching trends, and comparing goods and prices. 

Phillips de Pury & Company: Focuses on art and significant design from the twentieth century. A recent sale offered Wiener Werkstatte designs. Phillips de Pure also builds art collections for well-heeled private and corporate clients. 

Christie’s: Leading auction house offering museum-quality art, jewelry of historic provenance, and seasonal furniture collections. Excellent catalogs for reference.

Sotheby’s: Top auction house, with twentieth-century sales, as well as highly-collected and rare art. Outstanding catalogs are essential for current reference and 

Wright: Chicago-based pioneer of modern furniture, books and decorative arts, and a broad range of offerings from diverse and recherché twentieth-century designers. Excellent catalogs. 

Viva Las Vegas
“Resort hotel rooms and casinos, nightclubs and bars and restaurants are Wynn properties are designed to inspire fun, to be extremely glamorous, and to transport guests to another world, another way of being and seeing,” says Roger Thomas, who designed the Wynn Resort and Encore at Wynn décor, shown below. 

Wynn Las Vegas Hotel

The entrance to the Tower Suites at Wynn Las Vegas.

Tower Suites Lobby

Wynn Ballroom Lobby

Deluxe Resort King

Chandelier detail

The Encore at Wynn

The Encore at Wynn

Suite entrance

Suite bathroom


2-story suite

Encore Spa Foyer


It’s maximal design, sheer delight, and sheer folly at times. It works. Guests are in a dream world, far from the everyday, in an alternative universe of hedonism, playing out fantasies and escape.

For this, Roger Thomas is the master. 

Roger Thomas

Roger Thomas at work in Las Vegas
Art Libera

Photographs of the Rogers/Libera residence by Russell MacMasters,, and Julian T. Schuchman.

Photographs of Wynn Resorts’ Wynn Las Vegas and Encore interiors designed by Roger Thomas, courtesy Wynn Resorts.

All photography used with express permission.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Denise Hale: Society’s Superstar, Blog Darling

Denise Minnelli Hale is one of San Francisco’s most famous and enduring truly glamorous jet setters. (Ann Getty runs her design firm and keeps a lower profile these days.)

Diamond-studded decades on, Hale is a doted-upon delight of the international social set, invited to every dazzling event. She also runs her cattle ranch in a remote hilly outpost of Cloverdale, north of San Francisco.

Denise recently commissioned her brilliant portrait from the London illustrator, David Downton.
David is considered one of the top fashion illustrators and portraitists in the world, and his fashion clients include Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Tom Ford, Net-a-Porter. His portraits of Amanda Harlech, and Catherine Deneuve are considered classics.

And now she’s one of the most-searched and Googled topics on THE STYLE SALONISTE blog, with Internet fans Googling her around the world. 

In the early days of my blog, I wrote a feature on Denise Hale, illustrated with never-before-seen images. 

Hale is one of the most popular topics on my blog, as well as Paris designer, Jean-Louis Deniot, plus the late, great interior designer John Dickinson, who, as it happens, was a dear friend of hers.

At all hours of the day and night on THE STYLE SALONISTE there is an admirer in Paris or Pasadena, Belgrade or Belgravia, or even Murmansk (I think it’s her secret lover, an oil baron, checking in).

For Denise’s fans, I’m updating the original story with my picks of her latest party photos by star social photographer Drew Altizer (

Oh, and hello up there in Murmansk!

Denise Hale at the recent gala ball for the opening of ‘Balenciaga and Spain’ at the de Young Museum, San Francisco. Denise was a guest of Hamish Bowles, curator of the exhibit. Here, Denise in Ralph Rucci chats with Anna Wintour and Gavin Newsom. 

Denise Hale glides effortlessly and glamorously from gala costume balls in Paris to Oscar celebrations, and from Balenciaga balls to private lunches. Quietly and anonymously philanthropic, she pulls the talent for intime weekends with famous (and notorious) actors, editors-in-chief, writers, legal bigwigs, orchestra conductors, chefs, a tech mogul or two, princes in exile, and dear ultra-private friends.

On best-dressed lists in Rome since the sixties (and wearing Bulgari diamond bracelets at age 19), she continues to dazzle regal pals at Wimbledon, at tables for twelve at insider restaurans in Manhattan, and at ultra-private events in the Napa Valley, a charity dinner in Chicago, openings in Miami, and tete-a-tetes in Palm Beach. 

At the recent Hale Storm ball all-nighter at Ken Fulk’s South of Market loft (guests were still dancing at 4am), host Ken Fulk, a favorite interior designer, and Denise in Ralph Rucci. 

An A-list guest (hello, Graydon Carter), Hale adores longtime pal Betsey Bloomingdale, couturier Ralph Rucci, and young dukes and duchesses, decorators, stylists, leading dermatologists, city honchos, fashion designers, heart specialists and cancer researchers, musicians, painters, chefs, editors, priests, politicos, and the talented and witty around the world. 

Above, photographed by Drew Altizer at the dazzling opening of the Chanel boutique in San Francisco: Denise Hale in Ralph Rucci with designer/architect Peter Marino. A longtime friend. Marino designs Christian Dior boutiques, Chanel stores, and boasts a worldwide roster of clients in the top echelons of the fashion world. 

Denise Hale surprised many friends at the recent Chanel party in San Francsico when Peter Marino flung his arms around her—and he then proceeded to peel of his leather jacket (Dior, of course) to show off his leather straps and tattoos. Hale, beloved among those of royal blood (sometimes just a drop), current and long-exiled, a favorite of major domos and animal welfare activits (she the mother of two handsome German Shepherds, Ming and Angel), and best pal of social swans too numerous (and slender) to mention. And then there are the subversive ones, the style setters of many worlds. 

At a recent private dinner at Boulette’s Larder in San Francisco. Denise joined pals like Alison Pincus and Vanessa Getty to honor fashion designer, Guillaume Henry, above, the star designer for Carven, Paris. She’s wearing Ralph Rucci. Her cashmere wrap is from Udaipur. 

A long-time supporter of the San Francisco Symphony and Delancey Street Foundation, friend to up-and-coming fashion designers, Hale is spotted far from home base—Macau, the fleshpots of Las Vegas (Wynn Encore resort, designed by pal Roger Thomas, is her favorite quick luxury getaway), and touring Angkor Wat, sipping Champagne at the maharajah’s palace in Udaipur, trekking through St. Petersburg, even slipping semi-incognito into the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Shanghai. “It’s Denise Minnelli Hale” (no explanation required). 

At lunch with friends at Voltaire in Paris, the suave Prince Michael of Greece (can it be?) and his lovely wife make a beeline to greet the silver-haired beauty. “She knows everyone, and everyone knows her,” whispered an admirer.

But the surprise is that she often prefers to be alone, escaping to her 8,000 cattle ranch in the hills beyond Cloverdale.

“I’m an enigma to many people,” said Hale. “I grew up in Europe, I fled certain death in Yugoslavia, so I think differently. I love to have a great social life, but I also value solitude, being with one or two super-close friends. I’m really quite shy. I love to be alone.” 

Her life has been one of extremes.

“I am in some ways the little girl from Belgrade whose grandparents exposed me to an international life,” she said. “I went to Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball, and attended Baron Alexis de Rede’s Orientalist Ball in Paris, and I adore that glamour. Being alone in the country air with my dogs is also a luxury.” 

When she heads back to the city, seldom do her Emma Hope embroidered silk pumps stand still, as she’s been hopping over to London to dine with Charles and Camilla at Highgrove, attending a so-very-private wedding or quietly dining in a private club with girlfriends.

Hale has been, seemingly effortlessly, in the fashion style-leaders’ Hall of Fame since she was in her very early twenties when she first hit New York’s social pages. (El Morocco, anyone?) 

Denise Hale wearing a Ralph Rucci evening jacket and silk pants (and a superbly dramatic emerald Duchesse silk satin shawl custom made by Ralph Rucci for Denise) with Ralph Rucci. Photographed by top San Francisco social photographer Drew Altizer at the opening gala evening for the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, October 2008.

Today, her favorite designer is Ralph Rucci. Chicissima!

Even in the country she looks elegant, dressed in monogrammed petit-point Stubbs & Wootton loafers, white gabardine slacks, and a white Chanel t-shirt.

“I’ve led a privileged life,” she noted. “I’ve been incredibly fortunate.” 

To add to the drama—and mystery, and perhaps her introspection—Hale, who grew up in Serbia, escaped from war-torn Yugoslavia as a teenager with her young cousin. A Royal Navy ship picked up the pair bobbing about in a rowboat in the Adriatic Sea. Hale kept in touch with the captain of the ship, who saved her life. She keeps his letters in an album at her apartment on Russian Hill in San Francisco. (I’ve read these typewritten signed missives.)

Later, more happily, there was the high life with sparkling diamonds in Rome with husband number one, and in the sixties the chic movie scene in Los Angeles with husband number two, director Vincente Minnelli. 

Denise Minnelli and her husband Vincente Minnelli in Los Angeles. From 'The Way We Lived Then' written and photographed by Dominick Dunne. "I think I took more photos of Denise Minnelli than of anyone except my wife and my daughter," said Dunne, now a beloved contributor to Vanity Fair.

Her love-match with husband number three, Prentis Cobb Hale, lasted more than 27 years.

“Prentis was a man of great charisma, a big game hunter, president of the San Francisco Opera, an outdoorsman, involved in the cultural life of the city,” said Hale. “The H-E Ranch, where I spend most of the summer was a great escape for him”

She has given the rooms at the ranch her European style with Frette sheets, antique Persian rugs, marble obelisks from Florence, stacks of books everywhere, contemporary paintings, silver candelabra, fresh roses from her garden. 

The H-E Ranch

“I’m running a working cattle ranch,” said Hale. “I’m learning on the job. It’s a lot of work. I meet with the foreman, and the cattleman, and work in the garden.”

It’s privacy Hale enjoys the most, beyond padlocked gates.

“I have complete silence here,” she said.

The shady terrace is decorated with more Persian rugs, Burma silver, canvas curtains inspired by La Fiorentina, and masses of hydrangeas grown by her great friend, Jerry Bolduan of Green Valley Growers in Sebastapol.

“I found Nirvana at the ranch,” said Hale. “Once I ‘m up there, I never want to leave.” 

Diane Dorrans Saeks chatted with Denise Hale in her Russian Hill pied-a-terre. You may be surprised.

DDS: What is true luxury?
To be financially independent, which I have been since my early twenties.

DDS: Favorite fashion designers?
Gianfranco Ferre in Italy was my favorite and a very dear friend for many decades. I adore the designs of Ralph Rucci. I love their simplicity and elegance. When I find someone I love, I never change. Before Gianfranco, it was James Galanos.

DDS: Favorite jewelry designers?
Giorgio Bulgari (founder of Bulgari), David Webb, and James de Givenchy. Boucheron makes sexy designs, very individual.

DDS: Best dermatologist?
Dr Seth Matarasso in San Francisco. Simply superb. He’s talented, has fantastic knowledge, and is always up to date.

DDS: Favorite charities and cultural jewels you support?
I gave ambulances and medical instruments to two hospitals in Belgrade, where I grew up. I adore the San Francisco Symphony. Delancey Street Foundation, founded and directed by Mimi Silbert, has my attention.

DDS: Favorite restaurants?
Boulevard and Gary Danko in San Francisco, for grilled fish. Gary Danko and Nancy Oakes are fabulously talented. I’ve recently discovered Marlowe founded by Anna Weinberg in San Francisco’s South of Market. Voltaire in Paris, for haricots verts and foie gras.

DDS: Favorite pleasure?
Walking beneath a full moon at midnight in the garden in my country house. It’s completely silent.

DDS: Travel?
I was just in Bangkok. It was wonderful refreshing. I’m now heading to Dubrovnik, and thinking about plans for Christmas.

DDS: Favorite hotel?
I love Roger Thomas’s vision for the Wynn resorts in Las Vegas. They are pure escape, wonderful. I enjoy the Peninsula hotels in Hong Kong and Bangkok. In India I enjoyed Oberoi’s Udaivilas in Udaipur. George V in Paris is a favorite, especially for Jeff Leatham’s beautiful floral designs. 

DDS: Favorite trip?
Flying with Gianfranco Ferre, as the guest of Queen Rania, in the royal Jordanian helicopter to Petra. The Taj Mahal with Zubin and Nancy Mehta. Angkor Wat. Watching the first night spacecraft launch from Cape Kennedy.

DDS: Favorite Champagne?
Perrier Jouet Fleur Blanc de Blanc.

DDS: Cocktail?
My real indulgence is to drink great French wine. That’s my vice. I adore white Burgundies.

DDS: Your obsession?
Running my ranch. Now and forever.

DDS: Person you most admire.
My grandmother, Ana Radosavljevic. She is responsible for who I am.

DDS: Favorite person to sit beside at a dinner?
Among my favorite male friends are Zubin Mehta, the conductor, a dear friend for many decades, Paul Pelosi, investment executive, and Bernard Osher, the philanthropist. They’re all happily married. Among my single male friends: Michael Tilson Thomas, Ken Fulk, Greg Lopez, Dr Seth Matarasso.

DDS: Style point every chic woman should know?
Find your own style. Stick with it. Style is consistency. I don’t follow fashion. For me, the simpler, the better. I love understated, beautifully cut clothes.

DDS: The secret to wearing jewelry well?
I wear it as a second skin, every day.

DDS: Hairstylist?
Alex Chases, the one and only.

DDS: Secret of a great party?
Don’t invite only people who know each other. Mix it up.

DDS: The great escape?
The H-E ranch, 8,000 acres spread out across Sonoma county, Mendocino county and Lake county. I go there year-round.

DDS: If you weren’t living in San Francisco, where would you be?
I’d travel around the world. I love San Francisco because I’ve been very happy here. If you’re curious, you’re married to the world. I’m curious.

DDS: Your motto?
Live and let live.

New social shots of Denise Hale at recent San Francisco parties by the great photographer, Drew Altizer. Used with express permission.

Photos of H-E Ranch by Lisa Romerien.

All other photos: private collection, used with express permission.

Images include Denise Hale aged nineteen on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro; Denise Hale in a mink jacket in Rome, sixties; DH in her first season in New York, at El Morroco; Denise Hale wearing a Bulgari diamond bracelet and James Galanos kaftan in Los Angeles, sixties; Denise Hale meets Queen Elizabeth, with Ronald Reagan, at a state dinner; Denise Hale at the wedding of Don Johnson and Kelly Phleger, at the Getty residence, San Francisco, nineties.